The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
Transportation Advisory Board, April 5.
Plodding along with policy and priorities
Wants transparency in dealingsWarwick Jones
It was slow progress at yesterday's meeting of the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) as it plodded to define a transportation policy for inclusion in the Comprehensive Transportation Plan. The process began two meetings ago and is likely to extend to at least another.
Board member Sinkler summarized discussion of policy at an earlier meeting and split the recommendations of the board into four categories. The first of these categories was General Policy. Discussions on General Policy began last week, and for the record, the GAB voted at that time to approve the following.
Policy already agreed to
• Encourage County jurisdictions to share transportation and land use data to facilitate CHATS in the keeping of an up-to-date data warehouse.
• Encourage procurement decisions to be based on the Best Value Contract method when efficient and feasible.
• Investigate both incentive and fee-based programs that will help evaluate and mitigate the impacts of new development on the transportation system.
• Encourage the County to implement a land-use and transit model that integrates and simulates all modes of transportation and land use plans.
Suggestions for inclusion in policy discussed and agreed to yesterday are bulleted below.
Policy determined yesterday
• Establish an objective and transparent project privatization a selection process.
This was approved unanimously, but also with the comment that project selection and prioritization was an area that would require its own special study.
• Establish a policy recognizing a grid road system throughout the County, but recognizing topographical limitations. (Board member Sinkler was to work on the wording of this item)
The original recommendation called only for a grid system, that some board members pointed out the difficulty of implementing such a system considering the number of waterways that existed in the County.
• Establish a policy that ensures continued maintenance of the County's drainage systems adjacent to roadways and otherwise part of transportation projects.
There was concern expressed about this policy, and whether the TAB was going beyond its proscribed task. Was the TAB attempting to impose requirements on the County for all drainage projects or just those related to sales tax spending? And how could the requirements be imposed on the County if funds were not available? And finally responsibility for maintenance outside the unincorporated areas lay with the cities and municipalities.
• Adopt a "Complete Streets" policy
• Encourage coordinated evacuation routes in the region.
These had already been voted on some meetings ago. "Complete Streets" requires streets to be built to include sidewalks and bikeways.
• That all future land use planning for new developments includes Transit Oriented Design.
Transit Oriented Design is a buzz phrase. We won't attempt to define it but it means that amongst other things that new subdivisions will need to consider the placement of bus stops and supermarkets consider space for say CARTA and Tele-ride buses to set down handicapped etc. As before, one member noted that the County had no jurisdiction in this matter except in the unincorporated areas.
Funding Allocation generates some heat
The TAB then moved on to Funding Allocation policy. It began with a discussion as to whether projects not recommended for funding by the half-cent sales tax should be included in the Comprehensive Plan. It generated some heat and differences, but it was decided to move to the question to Specific Allocation issues and discussion at the next meeting of the TAB.
The following issue was also debated but the TAB decided not to include it because of the problems it brought.
• Projects should be funded to completion or to a specific level as per the referendum language
The issue is interesting. It followed an appearance of Mr. Mac Burdette, the Administrator of the Town Mount Pleasant, before the TAB two meetings ago. He told the TAB that there was an unwritten agreement between the Mayor of Mount Pleasant, and the Chairman at the time of the County Council, that certain developments along Route 17 would be financed by the half-cent sales tax. In return for this financing, the Mayor said that Mount Pleasant would support the half cent sales tax referendum. Mr. Burdette was complained that the draft Comprehensive Plan did not allow for full funding of the project by the half-cent sales tax
The Chairman of the TAB at that meeting indicated that the TAB effectively would ignore this alleged agreement. He said at yesterday's meeting that the TAB could not support anything that is not transparent. Who knew of the deal? How does the public know what is going on? He didn't say, but he could have added that a role of the TAB is to stop these sorts of deals. Deputy Chairman Welch also supported the chairman. He said an agreement should be upfront, and that "he will not support a handshake in a smoke-filled room".
We are not sure where all the members of the TAB the stood on this issue of funding to completion or a specific level, or indeed whether they had a firm view. We suspect that some would like to fund projects to completion. But they were restrained by the fact that funds well in excess of those available from the half-cent sales tax would be needed. It would also mean that far fewer projects could be started and many others abandoned. Board member Pena indicated that the City of Charleston looked originally to the sales tax to provide "seed money" for one of its projects. The first phase of the project was included in those for bonding and referred to in the referendum. But the estimate of the cost was unaltered from that of the second referendum in 2002. The actual cost of what was planned is now well beyond the original estimate. He didn't say but we would infer that he would like to see further funding from the half-cent sales tax to achieve the original purpose of the funding.
The TAB meets in 2 weeks to take up again Policy issues. LPA, the consultant, also is expected to give the TAB a breakdown of the $65 million estimate of administration and allied costs over the life of the program. The final cost and breakdown were partly dependent on decisions yet to be made by Council.